Farewell to the Philippines

So sad to be leaving, but so happy to return to our home and family. The week we left, all our friends at the Center had a combined farewell picnic for us and birthday party for Sister Alspaugh. Near Santiago is a damn and power plant which includes a beautiful camping area. We had a BBQ with skewed pork (with rice of course) and Sister Kiholm introduced our Filipino friends with the American companion to every picnic – homemade potato salad.  They loved it. Since they have all the ingredients available, they will probably add their own twist and it will be a local favorite before long.20131008_111808Farewell CelebrationFarewell Celebration (3)

Farewell Celebration (2)

 

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We haven’t posted for two months because there wasn’t anything to tell. After being here almost 10 months (not even “hump” time yet), the next 13 or so were feeling like a hundred. All week long we sit with nothing to do because no one comes in for our services. We haven’t been just sitting there waiting, of course. We have spent a large amount of time training, etc., but nothing much came of it. We would drive to a far away place, give a training session and get everyone fired up and return home thinking we were going to see results.  Wrong! No one to counsel or mentor. Zip!

In our last posting we mentioned ASOC (Area Stake Operating Committee). We finally got the chairman’s ear. Actually they called a new Stake President for Santiago Stake and he is automatically the ASOC Chairman. We sat down and he counseled on his idea of how to proceed and it is working really well. He felt we should not even try to go to other areas, but instead concentrate locally and our successes would then spread to other areas. We haven’t seen all that much success yet, but for some reason we have all these requests for workshops all around our area. They are all on Saturdays, but at least it is something to look forward to.

Elder at the Podium

We team teach, alternating English speaking with Tagalog speaking staff members and it is working really well. To the left is Elder Alspaugh during one of his teaching modules. Elder Kiholm is cracking the whip from the back.Class (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, this shot shows Elder Valencia at the podium and Elder and Sister Plucena standing in the ready to mingle and help out. This class in Ilagan started out small, but it grew. No matter how hard we try to stress them being on time, it is wasted breath and we just have to hope they can catch up.

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Work Break

We have been working hard because . . . well, the work is hard.  Not physically – more emotionally.  It has been difficult getting this program off the ground.  It was first introduced to this area in 2010 and those working here did a lot of work, but unfortunately the concept was not fully understood and therefore not effectively introduced to the local leadership. They hold the Priesthood Keys and if they don’t utilize the resource, we can do nothing.  We are only here to help them with their welfare responsibilities. We are in a country where, outside the Metro Manilla area, there is very little ‘structure’ within peoples lives. It is a very relaxed (Bahala na!) society.  Lovely, but not conducive to beneficial progress. For westerners it is very frustrating.

There is something called ASOC (Area Stake Operating Committee) which is responsible for coordinating and aiding the welfare activities of the Stakes and Districts within the Cauayan Mission area.  The ERC is part of that Committee.  The Chairman is the Stake President where the ERC is located, which is Santiago Stake.

The Committee has not functioned in the past, partly because we did not know enough to make sure it did.  The committee meets quarterly where we help identify the welfare needs of the Stakes in the area and adjust our activity to try to address those needs in the area of employment. We now have a new Stake President who knew nothing about ASOC.  We had the opportunity to meet him on Saturday and set up our quarterly meeting on the 22nd. We are very hopeful that if we can get him ‘on board,’ he can then direct the other Stakes to utilize us as a resource for the units in their Stakes.

Meanwhile – some fun stuff. Three of the senior missionary couples obtained permission for a little vacation and sight seeing to Banaue. I am embedding a site where you can view photos because they are better than the ones we took, even though we were right where every one was taken and saw these fabulous sights. You will need to copy and paste.(http://www.tripadvisor.com/Tourism-g294249-Banaue_Cordillera_Region_Luzon-Vacations.html)

In order to get to the best viewing sights, you need to catch an sturdy jeepny.

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Once you get used to off-roading absent suspension, you must stop and visit with some of the indigenous people in the area.  IMGP1877

 

 

 

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After meeting with these wonderful octogenarians we tried a hike in Batad. We rented our walking sticks and started down to the village which takes about 45 mins. This is what we did not too far down, after which we returned to the top and waited for 2 hours for Elder and Sister Mills to actually complete the hike.IMGP1867

 

 

 

 

We did buy t-shirts that read: “We Survived Batad.” We then returned to the hotel where we enjoyed some very good meals.  We must show you the flowers on our table.

IMGP1872We were certain they were fake until they bloomed.  They are like a red magnolia, but almost waxy to the touch. Alas! No odor. We continued our adventure on a hike everyone could handle and visited  a museum where we learned of the 2,000 year history of the area, and then visited a camping area where they have dug up and display the area’s voodoo rich cultural heritage.  As a true missionary, Elder Gottfredson continues to proselyte.IMGP1907

We had a wonderful 3 day rest from our labors, enjoying this beautiful country’s scenery and history – a break from our usual routine.

 

 

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Some Missionaries have all the fun! ‎

Newspaper ClippingThe last few weeks have been really great riding around in the Mission’s brand new truck (it’s even white).  We knew we were about to lose the old one because it was time to be replaced, but we thought we would end up with one of the little ‘throw-away’ cars to rent.  We arrived at just the right time because the only other senior missionaries even interested in having a truck are the couple who take care of all the junior missionary apartments and they are going home today.  Elder Kiholm was overjoyed when the Mission President asked us to come to Cauayan and switch out our truck for a new one.  On May 1 we had to regretfully inform the Mission President that the truck had been damaged.  This is a copy of our email:

We are really, really sorry to inform you that the truck has been damaged.  We didn’t have an accident, but the shrapnel from the grenade took out the windshield and did some other damage.  Have your attention?

About 2:00am we woke up to what sounded like gun shots and a loud boom (very close). We lay there for what seemed like about ten minutes wondering what happened, but all seemed quiet.  Elder Kiholm got up and looked around the apartment.  Everything looked OK, so he came back to bed, until our doorbell started ringing, frantically. 

 Apparently, the Assistant to the Santiago Mayor has been staying next door at the policeman’s house (probably hiding out).  He was the target.  They missed, but their front gate, our garage roof and the truck took a beating.

It was strange; about a week ago I was telling Elder Kiholm that until the elections were over, we should probably be very ‘aware’ of our surroundings because it could be dangerous.

We do have the adventures, don’t we?

We have become minor celebrities and it has actually helped our work here.  Last Monday was the first staff meeting after the incident.  It had been hard to break through the cultural barrier and earn trust, but this last meeting was amazingly unifying.  The local leaders have also been slow in wanting to utilize the services offered by this program, but we have now had two members referred to us for career mentoring and we are certain they will be very successful.

So while we are a little envious of the senior couple going home, we are anxious to say our good-byes and get back to work.

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Our own Tindahan

The ‘look’ has changed, but this is Sister Kiholm in her own little Tindahan, selling all the jello that just arrived in an LBC box, gratefully received from our friend in the States. The biggest treat of all was the mattress cover, greatly coveted for the 8 weeks it took for the package to arrive (very unusual – usually half that time)download (1) download (2) download

The arrival of a box is a big event with all the routine work we are doing.  It is a little daunting at times.  The Church is becoming more and more ‘techie’ oriented.  Our work is very dependent on using the ldsjobs.org website.  Our Center Director has a tough time, imagine trying to teach 68 Branch Employment Specialists, any one of whom might live in a dirt-floored shack, to use the website to help their fellow members?  There are internet cafes everywhere.  Accessibility is not an issue; but knowledge and a few pesos are. They do an amazing job with what they have.  Due to the shortage of jobs in the provinces, away from Metro Manilla, most of our work is trying to teach self-reliance through self-employment.

These Tindahans, are typical.  They don’t earn much, but those who have them feel fortunate to be able to support their families. The Pig Project we’ve been involved with is a really big deal.  It will be interesting to see which, if any, of the recipients actually use the opportunity to advance, or simply ‘eat the pig.’  After taking the self-employment workshop (motivated by the pig project), some of the members of the two Branches we’re working with, formed a legal ‘Co-op,’ to work together on putting together a meat market to ensure that if pork prices drop, they can earn it back on the other end.  It also got them thinking about other avenues of expanding their opportunities.  It is really gratifying to watch them progress and be a tiny part of it.  In the US, it is rare to find the harmony of working together as a community that you find here in the Philippines (unless there’s a disaster).

They are a remarkable people.  We get impatient because everything is so chaotic and we enjoy much more ORDER in our lives, but we just keep reminding ourselves of how patient and loving they are.  When we do that, we realize that our impatience is much more of a shortcoming than their lack of organization.  Recently, we traveled to Tuguegarao (about 2 hours up north) to give training to the Branch and Ward Specialists.  We thought the meeting was scheduled with Tuguegarao North Stake and when we arrived, we were fortunate to run into someone whose husband was attending the meeting, to find out it was at the other Stake.  We just went to the other building in plenty of time to be on time, the problems was:  the week before we had been to Amulung which is part of the Tuguegarao North Stake and knew that someone from that Stake was about to travel all that way just to discover we were not there (since we had gone to the other Stake).

Now if that happened to us, we would be furious, since traveling for an hour on an uncomfortable bus or jeepney in the heat (which they probably could not afford), to a meeting that was cancelled with no notification, is unacceptable.  To the Filipino, it is Bahala na! – just the way it is.  They will not be angry.  They will not get upset with you, and they will not hold it against you.  To do so, would shame them. You can be the judge, but in our minds, theirs is the better way. Diba? (Rough translation: hindi=no/not; ba=? thus – slang Diba, or “Is it not?”)

Meanwhile, our weekly staff meeting/devotional is becoming more and more beneficial.  We are overcoming the ‘glitch’ we experienced adjusting to our cultural differences (sort of), and moving the work forward – slower than we would like, but at a much faster pace than before we arrived – painful for us all, but that’s what compromise is all about.  We have the Lord’s work to do and that is the unifying factor.  It is His will that is to be done, in His way, and on His time schedule, not ours.  What a hard lesson to learn.  We thought we learned it in Nigeria, but we are finding that it is a life-long learning process. Had we learned it better, maybe instead of logging about 200 hours a month, we would be on some cushy mission as tour guides at an LDS historical site  – and bored to death.  Thank You, Heavenly Father, for knowing us so well.

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And this little piggy went . . . . . . .

It’s been almost a month since we last posted, but not because nothing was happening.  We have been super busy with training and workshops.  Working through a cold and a pinched back nerve reminded us that we are in our 70s.  We could whine about not having a “P-day” like the other full-time missionaries, and that Sundays are our busiest days, but we’re simply having too much fun.

We have been to some of the furthest units in the Mission Area and some of the most gorgeous, where we sat on a bench at the entrance to a beautiful Chapel, with balmy breezes blowing the palm trees and thinking it must be like paradise.  We spent the night in the southern most part of the Mission area at a hotel named Balai Goria whose restaurant was the nicest we’ve been to since arriving in the Philippines.  It was covered, but open on the sides and had all the ambiance anyone could ask for.  Really good food and good service (they even served our meals at the same time – rare treat).  The whole tab was about $30.00 (room and meal).

The members have been more than anxious to have us come and teach.  Successes are few and far between, but it will take time to grow.  We feel that once the employers in the area discover that our members make better employees, we will have more success.  Most of our workshops are for self-employment.  We really teach people to dig deep to discover their talents, skills and abilities and how to put them to work for them.  Small businesses are the backbone of the nation.

The Pig Project is coming together.  We attached a film clip of the first delivery of piglets.  It was chaotic, but fun.  You will see us sitting with Lorna and will see her husband Kevin hauling bags of feed.  They are, as of today, new ‘Service Missionaries’ assigned to the ERC.  Kevin didn’t last long and looks on in amazement as the 100lb + bags are hauled out on top of heads by the stronger members.  Then one starts using his brain instead of brawn.  Be patient.  It’s our first attempt at filming and embedding.  The film has no sound because we don’t know how to properly transfer the film to the computer (yet), and it takes a long time to load.  Enjoy.

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Hey . . . Whole World

It has come to my attention just how ‘public’ blogging is. Remember the story about Armando and ‘Joe (whose real name is Ben)?’ And remember how impressed I was with Armando and wanted to surprise him with a Black’s Law Dictionary? Well . . . Armando reads blogs; so much for the surprise.

Apparently anything said on this blog can be read by the whole world. So listen up whole world, because I have something wonderful to tell you. I’ve blogged about how many times our Mission call changed, and how unsure the Mission President was about giving us something to do. He is ‘responsible’ for our spiritual needs, but not the person we report to for our temporal assignment. We had to assure him we could handle more than just the ERC work. So he assigned us to mentor the Branches in Echague which are only about 20 minutes away. Finally, you know about Ben finding our blog and contacting us, wanting to help some of the members here and me posing the question, “do really think he just ‘stumbled’ onto our blog?”

 

Sunday was one of the best days of our lives. We met with Ben and his wife Amanda on Saturday and got to know them. What a great young couple. We set up a meeting for the next afternoon in Echague to have Ben and Armando explain the plan for mini piggeries, its requirements, and to interview any who would qualify. They were looking for people who want to improve their lives, not just make a few extra bucks. That was not all we had to do on Sunday. In trying to get the Employment Resource Service off the ground (it has existed for a year or so in the area, but hasn’t caught on), we all decided to start an ‘education campaign.’ Each Stake/District, Ward/Branch has a calling specifically for an Employment Specialist. Many of the units have made such a call, but they have no clue what they are supposed to do. We will be visiting each of the 11 District/Stakes (with a total of 78 units) and not only training them, but making sure they are correctly entered into the Church’s worldwide MLS program, which at the same time allows them access to special leadership features of the LDSjobs.org website.

We, and the Service Missionary Couples divided up 6 target units and we visited one of ours on Sunday. We left at 7:00a and drove up to Ilagan, the Capital of the Isabela Province, about 2.5 hours away. It was a beautiful Sunday morning drive and what a welcome we received. We thought we were simply being invited to their regularly scheduled Ward Council Meeting and given 10 minutes or so to introduce the program. We were misinformed about the day for their regular meeting, so they called a special meeting and by the looks of it, all the Ward Leadership seemed to be in attendance, after which we guided them through the process of getting their Employment Specialist entered and who was excited to be trained in his new calling.

So we gave our little presentation, using an iPad and this little projector we bought when we were in the MTC that fits in the palm of your hand, for a power point. After promising to follow through with the training, we then hurried back for the Echague meeting. Ben did a wonderful job explaining the plan and then he and Armando interviewed and found more than enough who qualified, i.e. had the proper facilities and were willing to go through the Self-Employment Workshop, which would incorporate the training they felt was needed. What a full and wonderful day.

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So here is my point: There is no greater ‘high’ than when you can see the Lord’s hand at work and know that you have been used as instruments to accomplish his purpose. No matter how tiny a part it is, it is thrilling to look back and see how it all came together. It is not an earth-shattering event, just a chance for a few families to improve their lives, but we are all special in our Heavenly Father’s eyes. If we can help one another to have less temporal worries so that we can concentrate on our spiritual growth, there is a greater chance for us to return to Their presence. We are so grateful to be a part of His plan for us.

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Our Cup (candy bowl) Runeth Over

Our Candy Bowl Runeth OverChristmas arrived this week, and thank you all the wonderful people who took part.  We had a nice Christmas at the Mission Home as we have previously blogged, but this was like real Christmas – a package from home.  The Relief Society sent a package with lots of little very useful gifts.  We were just wondering how we would find some good writing pens when the ink ran out of the ones we brought with.  Nothing of quality is sold here, unfortunately because it is all too expensive for the average person to afford.  They have almost everything we have at home, but everything was purchased in a ‘dollar store’ of sorts.  Now we are trying to figure out how to stay away from all the candy.  A really great guy that Ki worked with the last two years send us what had to be 25 pounds of it, and that was in addition to the Relief Society gift.  It was wonderful and we love it, but we need to get rid of the 15-10 pounds we gained after entering the MTC.  We purchased a manual tread mill and are using it religiously, but we still need to lay off the candy.  I hope Joann is not reading this because she is sending some Sees and we will not pass that by.

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The Piggery

pig_art_1We forgot to take pictures of the real thing – maybe they wouldn’t be appealing anyway.  But let me tell you the story.  There is a man who lives in Las Vegas (I don’t know if he wants his name revealed, so I will call him Joe), who stumbled onto this Blog site – probably googling Santiago City, Philippines.  He was on a mission in this area back in 1999-2001.  He was assigned to an area called Cabarroguis and Diffun.  A beautiful area that looks somewhat like Northern California when there has been adequate rain to make it green and lush.

There he made a friend named Armando.  He wanted Armando to immigrate to the US via a student visa.  Unfortunately 9-11 happened, which foiled the plans of these young men.  So instead, he and Armando went into business together.  They developed a piggery which, thanks to Armando, has been very successful (Armando minimizes his hard work and only talks about how wonderful his friend Joe is).  They now have two locations and are about to build a third and want to share their success.  After reading this blog and finding out why the Lord sent us here, Joe contacted us to find out if we thought the members here would be interested in starting their own small piggery.  If they could manage proper facilities, he and Armando would provide piglets and the food (Armando makes their own).  After they were grown and sold, the investment would be repaid.

They also want to employ some individuals – one to run the new facility and at least one other to sell internet service to local schools, hospitals, etc.  There was no access to service in that area, so they built a tower on the piggery land, to bring it in.  So we are busy getting interest up – which has been tremendous, in preparation for Joe and his wife’s visit in a few days.  We are so excited to meet them.

Saturday we drove down and met Armando who showed us around the facility.  What a wonderful guy.  In addition to the facilities that he oversees, he is married with three daughters and another on the way.  He attends Law School at night.  We bonded immediately and he took great pride in showing us his library of books by American lawyers.

If the Lord sent us here to work in the Self-Reliance Center, do you really believe that Joe just ‘stumbled’ onto our blog?

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Local idiom – how many Filipinos will fit in a jeepney?

Jeepney

Isa pa.  (one more)

 

 

 

 

 

Why only ride one?

Same answer for a Tricee – we counted 10 on this one, but we’ve seen as many as 12, usually kids on their way home from school.

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